Training Sessions – Less is More…

November 28, 2012

Over the years I have found that I can get by with far fewer sessions of training the various skills I need for my dogs than I thought was necessary in the past.  This is mainly because I now have more dogs to train than before, and less time.  In spite of this I am still getting the same, if not better, results.  I thought it was perhaps because I am now a more experienced trainer than I was for my first dogs and my training methods have over the years become more efficient.  But, although this obviously is a factor, it seems that this is not entirely the case.  This was all brought to my attention by a study that was carried out by University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Life Sciences and the findings published in 2011. In this study to determine what effect the frequency and duration of training sessions had on the acquisition of a skill and the subsequent memory of that skill, four groups of beagles were trained by means of operant conditioning and shaping to perform a traditional obedience task.  The training schedules of the 4 groups were handled as follows:

  • Group 1 (W1) had one training session, once or twice a week.
  • Group 2 (W2) had three training sessions a day, once or twice a week.  There was a rest period of 15 seconds between each session.
  • Group 3 (D1) had one training session, five times a week, and
  • Group 4 (D3) had three sessions a day, five times a week.

The goal was for the dog to move to a basket, jump into the basket on cue and stay sitting in the basket for 20 seconds while the handler moved away and back. The dogs in Group 1 showed the best results in terms of acquisition of the behaviour.  Shorter sessions fewer times a week produced the optimal result.  In terms of memory the task was remembered irrespective of the “training time”. One of the reasons for this result could be that sleep has been identified as a state that optimizes the consolidation of newly acquired information in memory and facilitates retrieval in wakefulness.  It seems that animals rehearse learning during sleep periods.  The dogs in the study that had fewer training sessions per week had more time in which to consolidate the learning. Duration of the training sessions were also important in terms of the study.  Because the task was divided into twelve steps and the dog could only progress to the next level if it attained 5 out of 6 correct trials, it stands to reason that with the longer training sessions it was possible for the dog to move from one level to the subsequent one in only one session.  This means that there was no opportunity to consolidate the learning at the previous level before new learning commenced.  The dogs that had shorter training sessions therefore could consolidate the learning in that session before moving on to the next level.  Graph Freq and Duration TrainingThe graph illustrates even more dramatically the result!

There are obvious advantages to this. It is well to remember this study when planning your training schedule:

  • Keep sessions brief.
  • Keep records of training to ensure that you raise criteria when necessary – don’t “get stuck” at the same level.
  • Space out your training during the week so that your dog has an opportunity to consolidate his learning.

… And have fun.  Obedience is all tricks, anyway. 🙂

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